The World Health Organization director on Monday chided countries that did not heed his organization’s recommendations on how to handle the coronavirus, saying the world “should have listened” to the WHO regarding the outbreak.
“We can only give advice to countries. We don’t have any mandate to force countries to implement what we advise them,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a WHO briefing, noting that the WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak “the highest level of emergency,” a global emergency, on January 30.
“The world should have listened to the WHO carefully,” Tedros said.
“We advised the whole world to implement a comprehensive public health approach – find, test, contact tracing and so on,” the WHO director continued. “The countries who followed that are in a better position than others.”
Even as it designed the coronavirus outbreak as “public health emergency of international concern,” the WHO recommended that countries keep borders and trade open
On January 14, just two weeks before announcing the designation, the WHO wrote in a controversial tweet that China had found no evidence of the virus spreading from person to person, based on information from Chinese health officials.
“Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel #coronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified in #Wuhan, #China,” the WHO wrote at the time.
The WHO would not officially declare the outbreak a pandemic until March 11, when more than 110 countries and territories had reported a total of more than 118,000 positive cases of the coronavirus.
The WHO also attracted harsh criticism after it praised China for its transparency and willingness to share information regarding the nature and spread of the virus.
“China is doing the right things, and China is responding in a massive way,” Dr. Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program, said in late January. “We’ve seen no obvious lack of transparency.”
“Before we start pointing the finger at China, we need to recognize there are genuine sensitivities around sharing data around new diseases, and I believe, in this case, the countries that have been affected, including China, have been remarkably transparent in this regard,” Ryan added.
The Trump administration and U.S. lawmakers have cast doubt on China’s good faith in sharing information about the outbreak and have criticized the WHO for apparently taking the communist country at its word.
The administration has begun rerouting funding away from the WHO, suspending payments until a review is conducted “to assess the World Health Organization’s role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus,” President Trump said.
As of Monday morning, the U.S. has experienced more than 965,000 cases of the coronavirus, and more than 49,000 people have died after being infected.